NBA Sees Surprising 10% Rise In National TV Viewership; TNT Up 22%, ESPN Grows 4%

After some years of declining viewership, national TV ratings for NBA basketball so far have posted an overall 10% viewership increase for TNT and ESPN games versus the similar pre-pandemic period in 2019.

Through 48 games, TNT and ESPN -- two major NBA national TV platforms -- have averaged 1.54 million viewers in Nielsen’s live program/same day viewing metric this year (October 19 to December 22) -- up from 1.38 million in 2019.

Airings on TNT in particular are soaring -- 22% higher to 1.65 million for 18 games. ESPN is 4% higher to 1.47 million for 30 games.

Estimated NBA national TV spending so far is at $146.6 million, according to

Top NBA advertisers in terms of spending are Google Phones, Sprite, State Farm, Corona Extra, Modelo, Under Armour, American Express, T-Mobile, Geico, and Kia Motors.



These results cover all NBA national TV ad messaging on ESPN, TNT, NBA TV, ABC and ESPN2.

Some analysts say the NBA is part of a general overall uptick in sports TV viewing, which has also seen the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball posting steady gains.

Due to rescheduling issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the previous 2020-2021 NBA season did not begin until December 22, 2020.

Before that, the 2019-2020 NBA season was fully disrupted by the pandemic.

That season began on October 22, 2019, and play was suspended on March 11, 2020.

The league then resumed play on July 30, with that season’s finals ending on October 11, 2020. All games during that time were played in a “bubble” to avoid COVID-19 infection at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

TV ratings were dramatically lower as four major sports overlapped schedules because of the pandemic. The NBA in particular witnessed more than a 25% decline in regular-season viewership per game for the entire 2019-2020 season to 1.32 million viewers. The pre-pandemic 2018-19 season averaged 1.75 million viewers.

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